January 28, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
Photo: Chad Vander Veen
In early January, Sin City was once again transformed into a showcase for the latest and greatest gadgets from around the world. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the largest trade shows in the world. In 2008, the four-day event attracted 140,000 attendees from 140 countries, 2,700 exhibitors -- and covered almost 2 million square feet of exhibit space. CES is so large that it cannot be contained in the massive Las Vegas Convention Center alone. To accommodate exhibitors and attendees, CES also had satellite facilities in the Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian as well as the Las Vegas Hilton.
CES attendees are confronted with the boggling task of navigating the show floor. In fact, there's so much to see and so much ground to cover, CES actually provides shuttle service from one end of the Convention Center to the other. Other shuttles run every 10 minutes to move people to and from The Venetian. Those who attend CES to marvel at technological wonders may be surprised to learn just how much work it takes to traverse the show and get a glimpse of the thousands of electronics.
There were plenty of gadgets to drool over at CES, and plenty to steer clear of as well. Most in attendance would agree the heaviest hitter of the show, and also one of the physically biggest, was Panasonic's 150-inch HD plasma behemoth. A crowd favorite, the giant was never short of gawkers mesmerized by its 12-and-a-half foot, corner-to-corner screen. Literally weighing almost a ton, the titanic television made the company's 108-inch screen -- which it introduced three years ago -- seem downright diminutive.
It seemed every exhibitor had HD on the brain as most booths boasted of some sort of high-definition display capability. Those able to make their way through the slew of HDTVs, somewhat smaller cell phones and the latest laptops (slightly higher performance than last year!) could find some things worth a second look. While not as prominently positioned as the giant TVs, Microsoft Surface is one technology that is both practical and astounding.
Invoking fond memories of pizza parlor Ms. Pac-Man machines, Surface is a touchscreen tabletop PC that users control with their hands and fingers. One demonstrator showed how easy it is to place a digital camera on Surface and, using one finger, drag images to and from the camera and the hard drive. Also shown: a finger-painting tool, an interactive wine guide and a travel planner -- all of which can be used without a mouse or keyboard, though a soft, virtual keyboard is available onscreen. The interface is very much like the feature-laden computer terminals as depicted in the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which applications were programmed for control via a multi-touch, reactive screen. Microsoft expects the first Surface units to run up to $10,000 each, but figures that price will drop after several years.
Forgive the cliche, but thin was most definitely in at CES. Big names like JVC, LG and Hitachi proudly showed off their ultra-slender LCD TVs -- each of which had a girth of less than two inches. That's skinnier than a business card is tall. But the most anorexic of the bunch were Sony's OLED TVs and a concept TV from Pioneer. OLED, or organic light emitting diode, is a technology that allows for screens that are truly paper thin. Though it debuted last year, Sony's flexible OLED screens were again a big hit with attendees. And Pioneer's 50-inch plasma TV measured just under 10 mm thick. There was no manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Pioneer TV, which may not be available for a year or two. Buyers hoping to snap up the 11-inch screen, 3-mm-thick Sony OLED TV can expect to pay $2,000 or more.